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A Journal of Ramblings Through the High Sierras: July 21 - 31, 1870

By Joseph LeConte

JULY 21, 1870

Amid many kind and cheering words, mingled with tender regrets; many encouragements, mingled with earnest entreaties to take care of myself and to keep out of drafts and damp while sleeping on the bare ground in the open air; many half-suppressed tears, concealed beneath bright smiles, I left my home and dear ones this morning. Surely I must have a heroic and dangerous air about me, for my little baby boy shrinks from my rough flannel shirt and broad-brim hat, as did the baby son of Hector from his brazen corslet and beamy helm and nodding plume. I snatch a kiss and hurry away to our place of rendezvous.

After much bustle, confusion, and noisy preparation, saddling, cinching, strapping blanket rolls, packing camp utensils and provisions, we are fairly ready at 10 A. M. Saluted by cheers from manly throats, and handkerchief-wavings by the white hands of women, we leave Oakland at a sweeping trot, Hawkins leading the pack; while the long handle of our frying-pan, sticking straight up through a hole in the bag, and the merry jingling of tin pans, tin cups and coffee-pot—"tintinabulation"—proclaimed the nature of our mission.

We are in high spirits; although I confess to some misgivings when I heard from the Captain that we would ride thirty miles to-day, for I have not been on horseback for ten years. But I am determined not to be an incumbrance to the merry party. We started from Oakland seven in number. One will join us to-night in Livermore Valley. Two others, having gone to Stockton to procure horses, will join us at Graysonville. Without any remarkable incident we rode along the level plain which borders the bay about fifteen miles, and reached our lunch-ground near Hayward, at 1 P. M. Here we fed our horses and rested two hours.

Started again at 3 P. M. Our ride took us over the Contra Costa Ridge, by Hayward Pass, into Amador and Livermore Valleys, and then along these valleys, the noble outline of Mt. Diablo looming finely in the distance on our left. I observe everything narrowly, for all is new to me, and so different from anything in the Eastern States. Livermore Valley is an extensive, rich, level plain, separating the Contra Costa from the Mt. Diablo Ridge. It is surrounded by mountains on every side, and the scenery is really fine.

Much pleased to find the mountains, on their northern and eastern slopes, so green and well wooded. I have been accustomed to see them from Oakland only on their southern and western slopes, which are almost tree-less, and, at this season, brown and sere. Much interested in watching the habits of burrowing squirrels and burrowing owls, especially the amicable manner in which they live together in the same burrows.

After riding about ten miles, we arrived, a little before sunset, at Dublin, a little village of a few houses. Here we found tolerable camping-ground, and ought to have stopped for the night; but, against my advice, the party, buoyant and thoughtless, concluded to go on to Laddsville [This place is now called Livermore.], where one of the party would join us, and had promised to prepare forage for our horses and camp for ourselves.

It was a foolish mistake. From this time our ride was very tedious and fatiguing. The miles seemed to stretch out before us longer and longer. The hilarious and somewhat noisy spirits of the young men gradually died away. After some abortive attempts at a song, some miserable failures in the way of jokes, we pursued our weary way in silence.

Night closed upon us while we were still many miles away from Laddsville. Lights ahead! Are these Laddsville We hope so. Onward we press; but the lights seem to recede from us. Still onward, seemingly three or four miles; but no nearer the lights. Are these ignes fatui sent to delude us? But courage! here comes some one.

"How far to Laddsville?" "Three miles."
Onward we pressed, at least three miles. Again a wayfarer.
"How far to Laddsville?"
"Three and a half miles."
Again three or four miles onward; three or four miles of aching ankles and knees, and hips and back, but no complaint.
"How many miles to Laddsville?"
"Five."
Again three or four miles of aching knees and hips and back. Wayfarers are becoming more numerous.
"How far to Laddsville?"
"Two miles."
"How far to Laddsville?"
"A little over a mile."
"How far to Laddsville?" "How far to Laddsville?"—"To Laddsville?"—Ah! here it is at last.

Yes, at last, about 10 P. M., that now celebrated place was actually reached; but too late for good camping. The companion who was to join us here was nowhere to be found. We hastily made arrangements for our horses in a neighboring stable, and camped on the bare, dusty ground, in an open space on the outskirts of the town. A good camp-fire and a hearty meal comforted us somewhat. About 11:30 P. M. rolled ourselves in our blankets and composed ourselves for sleep.

To our wearied spirits, we seem to have traveled at least fifty miles to-day. From the most accurate information we can get, however, the actual distance is only about thirty-five miles. Very foolish to go so far the first day.


JULY 22

Estimating the whole mammalian population of Laddsville at two hundred, I am sure at least one hundred and fifty must be dogs. These kept up such an incessant barking all night, around us and at us, as we lay upon the ground, that we got little sleep. Near daybreak I sank into a deeper, sweeter sleep, when whoo!-oo-oo-oo-! whoo!!! the scream of a railroad train, passing within fifty feet, startled the night air and us. It is not surprising, then, that we got up reluctantly, and rather late, and very stiff and sore.

Our breakfast, which consisted this morning of fried bacon, cheese, cold bread, and good tea, refreshed and comforted us greatly. While eating our breakfast, whoop! whoop! hurrah! our expected companion, Dell Linderman, came galloping in, with gun slung on shoulder. He did his best, by whip and spur and noise, to make a dashing entry, but his heavy, sluggish mare did not in the least sympathize with his enthusiasm. He had been looking for us the evening before, but had given us up, and went back to a friend’s house, a little out of Laddsville.

Soon after sunrise, all the inhabitants of Laddsville, including, of course, the one hundred and fifty dogs, came crowding around us the men to find out who we were, and where bound; the dogs to find out what it was they had been barking at all night. After we had severally satisfied these, our fellow-creatures, both biped and quadruped—our fellow-men and Darwinian cousins-we saddled and packed up, determined to profit by the experience of yesterday, and not to go more than twenty miles to-day.

Our horses as well as ourselves have suffered from the travel of yesterday. We started late, about 8 A. M., proceeded only five miles, and stopped, 10 A. M., under the shade of a clump of oaks, near a mill.

The air is still this morning, and the sun insufferably hot. We here took cold lunch, and rested until 1 P. M. A cool breeze now springing up, we started, passed over the summit of Corral Hollow Pass and down by a very steep grade, I think about fifteen hundred feet in a mile, into "Corral Hollow," a very narrow cañon with only fifty to sixty yards width at the bottom, with high rocky cliffs on either side, which cuts through Mt. Diablo Range to the base. The road now ran in this cañon along a dry stream bed for many miles, until it finally emerges on the San Joaquin plains.

In Amador and Livermore Valleys, I observed the soil was composed of a drift of rounded pebbles, in stiff adobe clay—local drift from the mountains. In Corral Hollow the soil consists of pebbles and coarse sand, evidently river deposit Fine sections showing cross lamination were observed. Mountains very steep on each side the gorge. Perpendicular cliffs of sandstone and limestone exposed in many places, sometimes worn into fantastic shapes, and often into caves.

These caves, I hear, were once the haunts of robbers. Near the bottom of the gorge the irregularly stratified river sands are seen lying unconformably on the sandstone. We passed on our way some coal mines, which are now worked. These strata are probably cretaceous, belonging to the same horizon as the Mt. Diablo coal.

We rode ten or twelve miles down Corral Hollow, or about fifteen miles, this afternoon, and camped, 7 P. M., at a teamsters’ camp, the permanent camp of the teamsters of the coal-mine. From these men we bought feed for our horses; then cooked supper, and went to bed as early as possible.


JULY 23

The whole party woke up this morning in good spirits, much refreshed by our supper and sleep last night. We got up at 4 A. M., cooked our breakfast and were off by 5:30. At first we really enjoyed our ride in the cool morning air. In about an hour we emerged from Corral Hollow on the San Joaquin plains. There is still a fine cool breeze.

"Why, this is delightful; the San Joaquin plains have been much slandered," thought we. As we advanced, however, we changed our opinion. Insufficiency of rain last winter has produced utter failure of crops. As far as the eye can reach, in every direction, only a bare desert plain is seen. The heat now became intense; the wind, though strong, was dry and burning.

Over the perfectly level, dry, parched, dusty, and now desert plains, with baked lips and bleeding noses, we pressed on toward Grayson, where we expected to noon. "Grayson is on the San Joaquin River. It can’t be far off, for yonder is water." Yes, surely yonder is water; do you not see its glistening surface? its rolling billows running in the direction of the wind? the reflection of the trees, which grow on the farther bank?

Those white objects scattered over the glistening surface, with their images beneath: are these not sails on the river? Alas! no! It is all mirage. There is no water visible at all. The trees are trees which skirt the nearer bank of the river; the white objects are cottages on the desert plains. We could hardly believe it until we were deceived and undeceived half a dozen times. Parched with heat and thirst, and blinded with dust, we could easily appreciate the tantalizing effect of similar phenomena on the thirsty travelers of Sahara.

Onward, still onward, with parched throats, baked lips, and bleeding noses, we press. But even with parched throat, baked lips, and bleeding nose, one may enjoy the ludicrous, and even shake his gaunt sides with laughter; at least I found it so this morning. The circumstances were these: Hawkins early this morning killed a rabbit. Phelps, conceiving the idea that it would relish well, broiled on the glowing coals of our camp fire to-night, offered to carry it. He did so for some time, but his frisky, foolish, unsteady filly, not liking the dangling rabbit, became restive, and the rabbit was dropped in disgust, and left on the road.

Stone, good-natured fellow, in simple kindness of heart, and also having the delights of broiled rabbit present in his imagination—the picture of broiled rabbit before his mind’s eye, and the fragrance of broiled rabbit in his mind’s nose —dismounted and picked it up. But essaying to mount his cow-like beast again, just when he had, with painful effort, climbed up to his "saddle’s eaves," and was about to heave his long dexter leg over and wriggle himself into his seat, the beast aforesaid, who had been attentively viewing the operation out of the external corner of his left eye,  started suddenly forward, and Stone, to his great astonishment, found himself on his own instead of his horse’s back.

Then commenced a wild careering over the dusty plain, with the saddle under his belly; a mad plunging and kicking, a general chasing by the whole party, including Stone himself, on foot; a laughing and shouting by all except Stone, until cinch and straps gave way, and saddle, blanket-roll, and clothing lay strewed upon the ground.

We had hardly picked up Stone’s traps, and mended his cinch, and started on our way—the agitation of our diaphragms and the aching of our sides had hardly subsided—when Pomroy, sitting high-enthroned on his aged, misshapen beast, thinking to show the ease and grace of his perfect horsemanship, and also secretly desiring to ease the exquisite tenderness of his sitting-bones, quietly detached his right foot from the stirrup and swung it gracefully over the pommel, to sit a while in woman-fashion.

But as soon as the shadow of his great top-boots fell across the eyes of "Old 67," that venerable beast, whether in the innocency of colt-like playfulness, or a natural malignancy, made frantic by excessive heat and dust, began to kick and plunge and buck, until finally, by a sudden and dexterous arching of his back, and a throwing down of his head, Pomroy was shot from the saddle like an arrow from a bow or a shell from a mortar; and sailing through mid-air with arms and legs widely extended, like the bird of Jove, descended in graceful parabolic curve and fell into the arms of his fond mother earth.

Unwilling to encounter the wrath of his master, Old 67 turned quickly and fled, with his mouth wide open, and his teeth all showing, as if enjoying a huge horse-laugh.

Then commenced again the wild careering on the hot plains, the mad plunging and kicking, the shouting and laughing and chasing. The horse at last secured, Pomroy took him firmly by the bit, delivered one blow of his clenched fist upon his nose, and then gazed at him steadily with countenance full of solemn warning. In return, a wicked, unrepentant, vengeful gleam shot from the corner of the deep-sunk eye of Old 67.

Onward, still onward, over the absolutely treeless and plantless desert, we rode for fifteen or more miles, and reached Grayson about 12 M. Here we nooned and rested until 4 P. M. Two of our party, viz., Cobb and Bolton, joined us here from Stockton, where they had gone to procure horses. While resting here, we took a delightful swim in the San Joaquin River. Delightfully refreshing while in the water; but on coming out, the wind felt as hot and dry and fiery as if it blew out of a furnace. Caught a few fish here, and enjoyed them for lunch. Bought some peaches, and devoured them with a kind of ravenous fierceness. Ah! how delicious in this parched country!

Grayson is a small, insignificant village, with a half- dozen or more buildings, among which there is, of course, the hotel and the post-office. I took advantage of the latter to send off a letter to my wife—a very short letter—assuring her of my health, and that I was doing as well as could be expected; indeed, much better.

Four P. M., crossed the ferry, and continued on our journey about eight or ten miles, and camped for the night at Mr. Dooly’s ranch. Here we found much kindness in Mr. Dooly, much fodder for our horses, a big straw-bank for our beds, and a blue. starry sky for our roof. There was no reason, therefore, why we should not be happy. We were so; indeed, we really enjoyed our supper and our beds.

The San Joaquin plains, though the most fertile part of the State, is at this time, of course, completely dry and parched; nothing green as far as the eye can reach, except along the river banks. The crops this year have to a great extent failed, on account of the insufficient rain of the last rainy season. The only animate things which enlivened the scene this afternoon were thousands of jack-rabbits and burrowing squirrels, and their friends, the burrowing owls.


July 24, Sunday

The day of rest. Rest on the San Joaquin plains! Impossible! We pushed on this morning—this delightful, cool Sunday morning—after a refreshing night’s rest. Cool in the morning, but hot. oh! how hot! as the day advanced. Made fifteen miles, and nooned at a large ranch—Mr. Ashe’s. Besides the invariable jack-rabbits, burrowing squirrels, and burrowing owls, I noticed thousands of horned frogs (Phrynosoma).

I observed here a peculiarity of California life. Mr. Ashe is evidently a wealthy man. His fields are immense; his stables and barns are very ample; his horses and hired laborers are numerous; great numbers of cows, hogs, turkeys, chickens—every evidence of abundance, good living, and even of wealth, except dwelling-house. This is a shanty, scarcely fit for a cow-house. He doesn’t live here, however, but in San Francisco.

I saw also, to-day, a badger. One of the party tried to shoot him, but he disappeared in a burrow.

To-day has been insufferably hot. We find, upon inquiry, that there is a house at which we may stop, seven miles from this. We concluded to rest until the cool of the evening. We drowse away several hours under a wagon-shed, and resume our journey, 5:30 P. M. On the way this evening we killed two rattlesnakes, one with eight and one with twelve rattles. Enjoyed greatly the evening ride, and the glorious sunset.

About dark reached the house where we expected to camp; but, alas, no feed for horses. Directed to another house, two or three miles farther on. They must have feed there, for it is a stage station. On we went in the dark, over an exceedingly rough plowed field, full of great adobe clods, and reached the house, tired and hungry, about 9 P. M. Again "No feed." We were in despair. Impossible to go farther. "Any other house?"

"None within seven or eight miles." When we spoke of going on, however, the man in charge (agent) hinted at the existence of a barley-stack. "That’s just what we want." "But can’t let you have it." He was evidently trying to extort from us in our necessity.

This made Soule, our Captain, so angry that he plainly told him that we would have the use of the stack, and he might get redress in any way he liked. A good deal of useless cursing passed on both sides, when, by word of command, we marched off to the stack, about one quarter mile distant, and picketed our horses around, with their heads to the stack.

It was already so late that we did not attempt to cook supper, but ate it cold. After our cold supper, we threw ourselves upon the stack, and, although late, gazed up into the clear black sky, studded with brilliant stars, and talked for more than an hour. The young men asked me many questions about stars, and nebulæ, and spectrum analysis, and shooting-stars, and meteoric stones, which led to quite a dissertation on these subjects. The time and circumstances gave a keener interest to the discussion.

On San Joaquin plains, and, I believe, everywhere in California, however hot the days may be, the nights are delightfully cool.


JULY 25

After a really fine night’s rest, we got up about 4 A. M. The day was just breaking, and the air very clear and transparent. The blue, jagged outline of the Sierra is distinctly and beautifully marked, above and beyond the nearer foot-hills, against the clear sky. In fact, there seemed to be several ridges, rising one above and beyond the other; and above and beyond all, the sharp-toothed summits of the Sierra.

Took, again, a cold breakfast, and made an early start, 5 A. M. Went up to the house and offered to pay the agent for the barley. Charged us twenty-five dollars! We had been charged for the same everywhere else three dollars. Went into the house. Spoke to the ladies (daughters of the owner) on the subject. They were very kind and pleasant, and well satisfied with three dollars. We therefore paid them and left.

At first, our ride was delightfully pleasant in the cool morning, but gradually the bare desert plains, now monotonously rolling, became insufferably hot and dusty. The beautiful view of the Sierra, the goal of our yearnings, gradually faded away, obscured by dust, and our field of vision was again limited by the desert plains.

Soon after leaving the plains, we stopped for water at a neat hut, where dwelt a real "old mammy," surrounded by little darkies. On inquiry I found she was from Jackson County, Georgia, and formerly owned by a Mr. Strickland. She had come to California since the war. I was really glad to see the familiar old face, and hear the familiar low-country negro brogue; and she equally glad to see me. She evidently did not like California, and seemed to pine after the "auld country."

From this place to Snelling the heat and dust was absolutely fearful. We are commencing to rise; there is no strong breeze, as on the plains; the heated air and the dust rise from the earth and envelop us, man and horse, until we can scarcely see each other. After about fifteen miles travel, arrived at Snelling at 11:30 A. M. Here we washed ourselves thoroughly, and took a good meal at the hotel, the first meal we have thus taken since leaving Oakland. We heartily enjoyed both the cleansing and the meal.

Snelling is the largest and most thriving village we have yet seen. It is in the midst of a fine agricultural district. It supplies the mining district above, without itself being entirely dependent upon that interest. Pleased to notice a very nice brick public schoolhouse. The population is  probably six or seven hundred. Observed many Chinese laborers, hostlers, waiters, etc.

Continued our ride, 4 P. M., expecting to go only to Merced Falls to-night. Country beginning to be quite hilly: first, only denudation hills of drift, finely and horizontally stratified; then, round hills, with sharp, tooth-like jags of perpendicularly-cleaved slates, standing out thickly on their sides. Here we first saw the auriferous slates, and here, also, the first gravel diggings. The auriferous gravel and pebble deposit underlies the soil of the valleys and ravines. About five miles from Snelling we forded the Merced River. Here were two roads, one along the river and the other over the hills.

Two of the young men, Pomroy and Bolton, took the road over the hills; the rest of us thought that along the river the right one. Called after the other two to return, but they thought they were right, and proceeded. Went down the river about one-half mile below the fall, and camped. About one hour after dark, Pomroy and Bolton returned, and joined us at supper. No straw-bank for bed to-night. On the contrary, we camped on the barest, hardest, and bleakest of hills, the wind sweeping up the river over us in a perfect gale. Nevertheless, our sleep was sound and refreshing.

I heard to-night, for the first time, of a piece of boyish folly—to call it nothing worse—on the part of some of the young men, at Ashes, yesterday noon. While I was dozing under the shed, some of the young men, thinking it, no doubt, fine fun, managed to secure and appropriate some of the poultry running about in such superfluous abundance in the yard. While sitting and jotting down notes under the wagon-shed there, I had observed Cobb throwing a line to some chickens.

When I looked up from my note-book, I did observe, I now recollect, a mischievous twinkle in his coal-black eye, and a slight quiver of his scarcely perceptible downy moustache, but I thought nothing of it. Soon after I shut up my note-book, and went under a more retired shed to doe It now appears that a turkey and several chickens bad been bagged. The young rascals felicitated themselves hugely upon their good fortune, but, unfortunately, last night and this morning we made no camp-fire, and to-day at noon we ate at the hotel table; so that they have had no opportunity of enjoying their ill-gotten plunder until now.

Captain Soulé and myself have already expressed ourselves briefly, but very plainly, in condemnation of such conduct. To-night the chickens were served. I said nothing, but simply, with Soul&ecute; and Hawkins, refused the delicious morsel, and confined myself to bacon.

Merced Falls is a small village, deriving its importance only from a large mill situated on a rapid of the same name.


JULY 26

Really feel quite vigorous and refreshed this morning. Got up at 4:30 A. M. Again refused fat chicken and turkey, though sorely tempted by the delicious fragrance, and ate bacon and dried beef instead. The young men have keenly felt this quiet rebuke. I feel sure this thing will not occur again. Rode, without any remarkable incident, fifteen miles this morning, to the toll-house, on the top of a high ridge. Here we nooned, fed our horses, and rested until 4 P. M.

The country is becoming mountainous; we are rising the foot-hills. The soil begins to be well wooded. The air, though still hot, is more bracing. Small game is more abundant. I have become inured to the exercise of riding, and begin really to enjoy the trip. We are now on the famous Mariposa Estate.

We have, all along the road to-day, seen abundant evidence of mining, prospecting, etc., but all abandoned. While at the toll-house, the young men amused and refreshed themselves by bathing in the horse.trough. It was really a fine bathing-tub, being about thirty feet long, two feet wide, and two  feet deep, and a fine stream of water running through it. We really had a pleasant time here.

Nevertheless, every joy has its corresponding sorrow. We here lost the bag containing our cheese and bacon. How it disappeared is, and probably always will be, a mystery. There are many hounds about the premises; this may furnish a key to the investigator. [Just two years after this event I again with a party passed over this road and camped over night at this place. The hounds were still there and we again lost our bacon. This is an additional fact in favor of the hound theory.] The keeper of the toll-house is a rich character, a regular Paddy, full of fun and humor.

About 4:30 P. M. started for Mariposa, twelve miles distant. Enjoyed greatly the evening ride. Passed through the decayed, almost deserted, village of Princeton. Witnessed a magnificent sunset; brilliant golden above among the distant clouds; nearer clouds purple, shading insensibly through crimson and gold into the insufferable blaze of the sun itself.

Camped near an inn, where we could buy feed for our horses, one and one-half miles from Mariposa. Unfortunately, no straw-bank here, but we must lie on the hard, very hard, ground. Our bacon and cheese being lost, it is fortunate that we killed to-day several rabbits, quails, doves, etc., which we enjoyed at supper.


JULY 27

After a refreshing night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, we started at 6: 30 A. M., and created some excitement in the town of Mariposa, by riding through the streets in double file, military-fashion, and under word of command. The Captain was in his glory, and his horse seemed to sniff the battle. Dismounted at grocery-store and bought supplies.

Mariposa is now greatly reduced in population and importance. It contains from five to six hundred inhabitants, but at one time two or three times that number. The same decrease is observable in all the mining towns of California. Noticed many pleasant evidences of civilizations: church-spires, water-carts, fire-proof stores, etc.

After about an hour’s detention in Mariposa, we rode on. A little way out of town, we stopped to examine a quartz-mill. It is about forty horse-power. In the narrow, confined valleys of the foot-hills, the air is comparatively still, and the heat and dust is very great. Both horses and men very much worried by a march, this morning, of only fourteen miles. I have felt the ride much more to-day than yesterday. Stopped for noon meal at De Long’s (near White & Hatch) half-way house from Mariposa to Clark’s.

In order to avoid the heavy toll on the finely graded road to Clark’s, we determined to take the very rough and steep trail over the Chowchilla Mountain, which now rose before us. My advice was to start at 3 P. M., for I still remembered Laddsville and the stage station, but the rest of the party thought the heat too great.

The event proved I was right. Started 4:30 P. M. We found the trail much more difficult than we expected (we had not yet much experience in mountain trails). It seemed to pass directly up the mountain, without much regard to angle of declivity.

In order to relieve our horses, we walked much of the way. Two of the party, Linderman and Cobb, stopped to refresh themselves at a deliciously cool spring. We gave them minute directions concerning the trail, and proceeded. We saw no more of them. The trail passes directly over the crest of the mountains, and down on the other side.

Night overtook us when about half down. No moon; only starlight. The magnificent forests of this region, consisting of sugar-pines, yellow pines, and Douglass firs (some of the first eight to ten feet in diameter, and two hundred and fifty feet high)—grand, glorious by daylight; still grander and more glorious in the deepening shades of twilight; grandest of all by night—increased the darkness so greatly that it was impossible to see the trail.

We gave the horses the  reins, and let them go. Although in serious danger of missing footing, I could not but enjoy the night ride through those magnificent forests. These grand old trunks stand like giant sentinels about us. Were it not for our horses, I would gladly camp here in the glorious forest. But our tired horses must be fed.

Down, down, winding back and forth; still down, down, down, until my back ached and my feet burned with the constant pressure on the stirrups. Still down, down, down. Is there no end! Have we not missed the trail? No Clark’s yet. Down, down, down. Thus minute after minute, and, it seemed to us, hour after hour, passed away.

At last the advanced guard, Hawkins, gave the Indian yell See lights! lights! The whole company united in one shout of joy. When we arrived it was near 10 P. M. It being so late, we did not cook supper, but took supper at Clark’s. Supper over, we turned our horses into Clark’s meadow; selected our camp-ground, in a magnificent grove of pines one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet high; rolled ourselves in our blankets, and slept, with the mournful sighing of the pines as our lullaby.

We have felt some anxiety on account of the young men we left on the trail. After arriving at Clark’s we shot off our guns and pistols, to attract their attention, thinking they might be lost on the mountains. We hope they will come in to-morrow. We killed another large rattlesnake to-day on the Chowchilla trail.


JULY 28

The missing men, Linderman and Cobb, came in this morning, about 10 A. M. They had missed the trail, wandered over the mountains, reached a mountaineer’s hut, been cordially received, slept over night, and been directed on their road to Clark’s, this morning. Our party is complete again. Our trip, thus far, has been one of hardship without reward. It has been mere endurance, in the hope of enjoyment.

Some enjoyment, it is true,— our camps, our morning and evening rides, our jokes, etc.,—but nothing in comparison with the dust and heat and fatigue. From this time we expect to commence the real enjoyment We are delightfully situated here at Clark’s; fine pasture for horses; magnificent grove of tall pines for camp; fine river—South Fork of Merced—to swim in; delightful air.

We determined to stop here two days; one for rest and clothes-washing, and one for visiting the Big Trees. I have been sufficiently long with the party to become well acquainted with all. I have nothing to do, to-day, except to wash my clothes. I cannot have a better opportunity to describe our party. I do it very briefly.

We are in ten in number. Each man is dressed in strong trousers, heavy boots or shoes, and loose flannel shirt; a belt, with pistol and butcher-knife, about the waist; and a broad-brimmed hat. All other personal effects (and these are made as few as possible) are rolled up in a pair of blankets and securely strapped behind his saddle.

Thus accoutered, we make a formidable appearance, and are taken sometimes for a troop of soldiers, but more often for a band of cattle or horse drovers. Our camp utensils consist of two large pans, to mix bread; a camp-kettle, a teapot, a dozen tin plates, and ten tin cups; and most important of all, two or three frying-pans.

The necessary provisions are bacon, flour, sugar, tea, and coffee. Whenever we could, we bought small quantities of butter, cheese, fresh meat potatoes, etc. Before leaving Oakland we organized thoroughly, by electing Soulé as our Captain, and Hawkins his Lieutenant, and promised implicit obedience. This promise was strictly carried out. All important matters, however, such as our route, how long we should stay at any place, etc., was decided by vote, the Captain preferring to forego the exercise of authority in such matters.

The names and descriptions of the members of the party are as follows:—

1. Capt. Frank Soulé.—Strong, well-formed and straight, with clear-cut features and handsome face. Mounted on a tall, raw-boned, high-stepping dappled-gray, with a high head, a high spirit and fine action, he presents a striking appearance. He evidently feels his rank, and so does his horse. As to the latter

"We shall not need to say what lack
Of leather was on his back,
For that was hidden under pad,
And breech of Knight, galled full as bad."

2. Lieut. Leander Hawkins.—Strong, thick-set, almost herculean in build. Mounted on a fierce, vicious Indian pony, as wild as a deer, which he rides with a rope around his nose, instead of a bridle, and a blind across the forehead, which may be slipped over the eyes at a moment’s notice; he is evidently a most fearless rider and horse-breaker. He is, besides, thoroughly acquainted with camp life and mountain life. He is, therefore, the most indispensable man in the party.

At first he did everything; but he has gradually taught us the mysteries of cooking, dishwashing, and, above all, packing a horse. He is also treasurer and commissary, and always rides ahead, toward evening, and selects camp-ground. Generous almost to a fault, he is ever ready to help every one, and really does more work than any three in the party.

3. Myself.—Long and lean and lantern-jawed, and in search of romantic adventure, I was sometimes called by Linderman, but very secretly, "Don Quixote." I accept the nickname with pleasure, perhaps with pride. I have a great respect for the old Don. There was nothing remarkable about my horse. A strong, tough, well-made gray, both gentle and careful, he was admirably suited for my purposes. My function in the party was that of surgeon and scientific lecturer.

4. Everett B. Pomroy.—Short, strong, compact, muscular, with high roman nose, close-cropped hair, and coarse top-boots; very erect, somewhat grandiose in appearance and stilted in language. He is called "Our Poet." He is

"A chiel amang us, takin’ notes,
and faith he’ll prent it."

He is mounted on a large mud-colored mustang, with a broad, flat head, deep-sunk, vicious eyes, and a sprung knee. He stumbles fearfully, and bucks whenever he can, but is a tough, serviceable beast, nevertheless. We call him "Old 67," from a brand on his thigh. Pomroy sits astride of this ill-favored, hobbling beast, majestic and solemn, like Jupiter Tonans shorn of his ambrosial locks.

5. Dell Linderman.—Full of wit and infinite humor, quick and unfailing at repartee, with a merry twinkle in his eye, and a humorous, reddish knob on the end of his nose. We call him "Our Jester." He keeps our table in a roar. All the nicknames of men and horses are of his invention. His own horse is a very stout, logy mare, with a very rough gait. He calls her "Dolly Ann, the Scab-grinder." A gun, slung over his shoulder, completes his equipment.

6. George Cobb. Full of life and spirit, mercurial in temperament, with small, merry, coal-black eyes, and mouth always laughing and always chattering. He rides a neat, trim, round, frisky little mare, which seems well suited to him. He carries a splendid repeating rifle, with which he often shoots at marks. He is not known to have hit any living thing. He wears, also, neat strapped leggings. He is the fancy man and amateur sportsman of the party.

7. Jack Bolton.—Dark, grave, quiet; he rides a strong-boned, steady-going, grave-looking horse, of excellent gait and qualities.

8. Charles Phelps. Slender, long-limbed, loose-jointed, gothic in structure of body and features, Linderman calls him "Kangaroo." His horse is a thin, slender-limbed, weak-looking mare, which in walking wobbles its hinder parts in a serpentine manner. On each side of his unsteady beast Phelps’ long legs dangle in a helpless manner.

9. Charles Stone.—Tall, erect; very long, curved nose; very long, straight legs, and very high hips. Linderman calls him sometimes "Crow," from his nose, and sometimes "Tongs," from his legs. His horse is a pinto iron-gray; with whitish, imbecile-looking eyes, head down, nose stuck forward, and a straddling, cow-like action of his hind legs in trotting.

A tough, serviceable beast withal, except that it is impossible to cinch a saddle on his cow-like form so tightly that it will not slip on his neck in going down hill. Linderman calls him "Samson Nipper"; why, I cannot tell; but the name seems to us all very expressive.

10. Jim Perkins. A neat trim figure, both active and strong; a fine face, with well-chiseled features; quiet, unobstrusive, gentlemanly. He was mounted on a compact, well-built horse, of excellent gait and qualities.

11. Last, but not least, is "Old Pack," as we call our pack-horse. A mild-eyed, patient, much-enduring beast, steady and careful, with every quality befitting a packhorse. We all conceived a great affection for him.

Our party was divided into three squads of three each, leaving out Hawkins, as he helped everybody, and had more duties of his own than any of the rest. Each squad of three was on duty three days, and divided the duties of cook, dishwasher, and pack among themselves. On arriving at our camp-ground, each man unsaddled and picketed his horse with a long lariat rope carried on the horn of his saddle for this purpose. In addition to this, whoever attended to the pack-horse that day, unpacked him, laid the bags ready for the cook, and picketed the pack-horse.

The cook then built a fire (frequently several helping, for more expedition), brought water and commenced mixing dough and baking bread. This was a serious operation to make bread for ten, and bake in two frying-pans.  First, the flour in a big pan; then yeast-powder; then salt; then mix dry; then mix with water to dough; then bake quickly; then set up before the fire to keep hot. Then use frying-pans for meat, etc.

In the mean time, the dishwash must assist the cook by drawing tea or coffee. Our first attempts at making bread were lamentable failures. We soon found that the way to make bread was to bake from the top as well as the bottom; in fact, we often baked entirely from the top, turning it over by flipping it up in the frying-pan, and catching it on the other side.

Bake them as follows: Spread out the dough to fill the frying-pan, one-half inch thick, using a round stick for rolling-pin and the bottom of bread-pan for biscuit-board; set up the pan, at a steep incline, before the fire, by means of a stick. It is better, also, to put a few coals beneath, but this is not absolutely necessary. [This account of bread-making anticipates a little. At this time we had not yet learned to make it palatable.] It is the duty, now, of the dishwash to set the table. For this purpose a piece of Brussels carpet (used during the day to put under the pack-saddle, but not next to the horse) is spread on the ground, and the plates and cups are arranged around.

The meal is then served, and each man sits on the ground and uses his own belt-knife, and fork, if he has any. After supper we smoke, while Dishwash washes up the dishes; then we converse or sing, as the spirit moves us, and then roll ourselves in our blankets, only taking off our shoes, and sleep. Sometimes we gather pine straw, leaves, or boughs, to make the ground a little less hard. In the morning, Cook and Dishwash get up early, make the fire, and commence the cooking.

The rest get up a little later, in time to wash, brush hair, teeth, etc., before breakfast. We usually finish breakfast by 6 A. M. After breakfast, again wash up dishes and put away things, and deliver them to Pack, whose duty it is then to pack the pack-horse, and lead it during the day. We could travel much faster but for the pack. The pack-horse must go almost entirely in a walk, otherwise his pack is shaken to pieces, and his back is chafed, and we only lose time in stopping and repacking.

By organizing thoroughly, dividing the duties and alternating, our party gets along in the pleasantest and most harmonious manner. After this description, I think what follows will be understood without difficulty.

Soon after breakfast this morning, Professors Church and Kendrick, of West Point, called at our camp to see Soulé and myself. Soulé had been under their tuition, and afterwards an assistant teacher at West Point. I found them very hearty and cordial in manner, very gentlemanly in spirit, polished and urbane, and, of course, very intelligent. I was really much delighted with them.

They had just returned from Yosemite, and are enthusiastic in their admiration of its wonders. They are going to the Big Trees to-day, and return to San Francisco to-morrow. These gentlemen, of course, are not taking it in the rough way as we are. They are dressed cap-á-pie, and look like civilized gentlemen. They seem to admire our rough garb, and we are not at all ashamed of it.

About ten o’clock we all went down to the river, provided with soap, and washed underflannels, stockings, handkerchiefs, towels, etc. It was really a comical scene. I wish our friends in Oakland could have taken a peep—the whole party squatting on the rocks on the margin of the river, soaping, and scrubbing, and wringing, and hanging out. After clothes-washing we took a swim in the river; then returned to camp, wrote letters home, and ate dinner.

In the afternoon, Professors Church and Kendrick again called at our camp and bade us good-by. While preparing and eating our supper, two ladies from Oakland, now staying at Clark’s, friends of Phelps and Hawkins, called at our camp-fire and were introduced. They seemed much amused at our rough appearance, our rude mode of eating, and the somewhat rude manners of the young men towards each other.

Their little petticoated forms, so clean and white; their gentle manners; and, above all, their sweet, smooth, womanly faces, constrasted, oh! how pleasantly, with our own rough, bearded, forked appearance. They tasted some of our bread, and pronounced it excellent. Ah, the sweet, flattering, deceitful sex! It was really execrable stuff; we had not yet learned to make it palatable.


The Grizzly Giant
The Grizzly Giant
JULY 29

Started for the Big Trees at 7 A. M. Five of the party walked, and five rode. I preferred riding, and I had no cause to regret it. The trail was very rough, and almost the whole way up-mountain; the distance about six miles, and around the grove two miles, making fourteen miles in all.

The walkers were very much heated and fatigued, and drank too freely of the ice-cold water of the springs. The abundance and excessive coldness of the water seem closely connected with the occurrence of these trees.

My first impressions of the Big Trees were somewhat disappointing; but, as I passed from one to another; as, with upturned face, I looked along their straight, polished shafts, towering to the height of three hundred feet; as I climbed up the sides of their prostrate trunks, and stepped from end to end; as I rode around the standing trees and into their enormous hollows; as we rode through the hollows of some of these prostrate trunks, and even chased one another on horseback through these enormous, hollow cylinders, a sense of their immensity grew upon me.

If they stood by themselves on a plain, they would be more immediately striking. But they are giants among giants. The whole forest is filled with magnificent trees, sugar-pines, yellow pines, and spruce, eight to ten feet in diameter, and two hundred to two hundred and fifty feet high. The  sugar-pine, especially, is a magnificent tree in size, height, and symmetry of form.

Of all the big trees of this grove, and, therefore, of all the trees I have ever seen, the Grizzly Giant impressed me most profoundly; not, indeed, by its tallness or its symmetry, but by the hugeness of its cylindrical trunk, and by a certain gnarled grandeur, a fibrous, sinewy strength, which seems to defy time itself. The others, with their smooth, straight, tapering shafts, towering to the height of three hundred feet, seemed to me the type of youthful vigor and beauty in the plentitude of power and success.

But this, with its large, rough, knobbed, battered trunk, more than thirty feet in diameter—with top broken off and decayed at the height of one hundred and fifty feet—with its great limbs, six to eight feet in diameter, twisted and broken—seemed to me the type of a great life, decaying, but still strong and self-reliant. Perhaps my own bald head and grizzled locks—my own top, with its decaying foliage—made me sympathize with this grizzled giant; but I found the Captain, too, standing with hat in hand, and gazing in silent, bare-headed reverence upon the grand old tree.

We lunched at the Big Trees, rested, examined them three or four hours, and then returned to camp. Then went down to the creek, and enjoyed a delicious swimming-bath. On the way back to camp, stopped at Clark’s, and became acquainted with President Mark Hopkins and his family. He goes to Yosemite to-morrow. We will see him again. After supper, the young men, sitting under the tall pines, sang in chorus. The two ladies, already spoken of hearing the music, came down to our camp, sat on the ground, and joined in the song. Cobb’s noisy tenor, fuller of spirit than music, Pomroy’s bellowing baritone, and, especially, Stone’s deep, rich, really fine bass, harmonized very pleasantly with the thin clearness of the feminine voices.

I really enjoyed the song and the scene very greatly. Women’s faces and women’s voices, after our rough life, and contrasted with our rough forms—ah! how delightful! About 9:30 P. M. they left, and we all turned in for the night. For an hour I lay upon my back, gazing upwards through the tall pines into the dark, starry sky, which seemed almost to rest on their tops, and listening to the solemn murmurings of their leaves, which, in the silent night, seemed like the whisperings of spirits of the air above me.


JULY 30

Got up at 4 A. M. My turn to play cook. But cooking for ten hungry men, in two frying pans, is no play. It requires both time and patience. We did not get off until 7 A. M. Captain not very well to-day-too much violent exercise and ice-cold water yesterday. Another bucking farce this morning. Captain’s horse, it seems, has more style and spirit than bottom. He has become badly galled, and has been a constant source of annoyance to the Captain, since we left.

He therefore concluded to leave his horse here at Clark’s, to "heal him of his grevious wounds," and hire a mule, at least while we remain at Yosemite. He no sooner mounted than the mule started off in the contrary direction, kicking, and plunging, and jumping stiff-legged, until he threw off—not the Captain, indeed, but the pack behind the saddle.

After some delay, however, we started off fairly. No more roads hereafter; only steep, rough mountain trails. We are heartily glad, for we have no dust. President Hopkins and party started off with us. His party consisted of himself, wife, son, and several other ladies and gentlemen, and a guide, numbering in all eight. Our party numbered ten and pack. Together, we made a formidable cavalcade. The young men were in high spirits. They sang and hallooed and cracked jokes the whole way.

Rode twelve miles, up-hill nearly all the way, and camped for noon at Westfall’s Meadows, over 7,000 feet above sea-level. Hopkins’ party went on a mile or two, to Paragoy’s (the away house to Yosemite), to lunch. In this party is a short, stout, round-faced, laughing-eyed, rather pretty, young woman, in very short bloomer costume, which shows a considerable portion of two very fat legs. Her bloomer makes her look still more squat; and to make things worse, she cannot forego the fashionable bunch of knots and bows and ribbons on or below the waist, behind. Altogether, she was an amusing figure. Our young men called her "Miss Bloomer." The Captain, I think, is struck, but he worships, as yet, only at a distance.

In the afternoon we pushed on, to get our first view of Yosemite this evening, from Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point. Passing Paragoy’s, I saw a rough-looking man standing in an open place, with easel on thumb, and canvas before him, alternately gazing on the fine mountain view and painting. "Hello! Mr. Tracy, glad to see you." "Why, Doctor, how do you do? where are you going?" "Yosemite, the High Sierra, Lake Mono, and Lake Tahoe." "Ah! how I wish I could go with you." After a few such pleasant words of greeting and inquiry, I galloped on, and overtook our party on the trail to Glacier Point. About 5 P. M. we passed a high pile of rocks, called Ostrander’s Rocks.

The whole trail, from Westfall’s Meadows to Glacier Point, is near eight thousand feet high From this rocky prominence, therefore, the view is really magnificent. It was our first view of the Peaks and Domes about Yosemite, and of the more distant High Sierra, and we enjoyed it beyond expression. But there are still finer views ahead, which we must see this afternoon—yes, this very afternoon. With increasing enthusiasm we pushed on until, about 6 P. M., we reached and climbed Sentinel Dome. This point is four thousand five hundred feet above Yosemite Valley, and eight thousand five hundred  feet above the sea.

The view which here burst upon us, of the Valley and the Sierra, it is simply impossible to describe. Sentinel Dome stands on the south margin of Yosemite, near the point where it branches into three cañons. To the left stands El Capitan’s massive perpendicular wall; directly in front, and distant about one mile, Yosemite Falls, like a gauzy veil, rippling and waving with a slow, mazy motion; to the right the mighty granite mass of Half Dome lifts itself in solitary grandeur, defying the efforts of the climber; to the extreme right, and a little behind, Nevada Fall, with the cap of Liberty; in the distance, innumerable peaks of the High Sierra, conspicuous among which are Cloud’s Rest, Mt. Starr King, Cathedral Peak, etc.

We remained on the top of this Dome more than an hour, to see the sunset. We were well repaid-such a sunset I never saw; such a sunset, combined with such a view, I had never imagined. The gorgeous golden and crimson in the west, and the exquisitely delicate, diffused rose-bloom, tingeing the cloud caps of the Sierra in the east, and the shadows of the grand peaks and domes slowly creeping up the valley! I can never forget the impression. We remained, enjoying this scene, too long to think of going to Glacier Point this evening. We therefore put this off until morning, and returned on our trail about one and a half miles, to a beautiful green meadow, (Hawkins had chosen it on his way to Sentinel Dome), and there made camp in a grove of magnificent fir-trees ( Abies magnifica) [The original edition reads: "Spruce trees (Picea Grandis)," corrected in the edition of 1900—Editor.


 The High Sierra, from Glacier Point
The High Sierra,
from Glacier Point
JULY 31, SUNDAY

I got up at peep of day this morning, (I am dishwash to-day,) roused the party, started a fire, and in ten minutes tea was ready. All partook heartily of this delicious beverage, and started on foot to see the sunrise, from Glacier Point. This point is about one and a half miles from our camp, about three thousand two hundred feet above the valley, and forms the salient angle on the south side, just where the valley divides into three. We had to descend about eight hundred feet to reach it.

We arrived just before sunrise. Sunrise from Glacier Point! No one can appreciate it who has not seen it. It was our good fortune to have an exceedingly beautiful sunrise. Rosy-fingered Aurora revealed herself to us, her votaries, more bright and charming and rosy than ever before.

But the great charm was the view of the valley and surrounding peaks, in the fresh, cool morning hour and in the rosy light of the rising sun; the bright, warm light on the mountain tops, and the cool shade in the valley. The shadow of the grand Half Dome stretches clear across the valley, while its own "bald, awful head" glitters in the early sunlight.

To the right, Vernal and Nevada Falls, with their magnificent, overhanging peaks, in full view; while directly across, see the ever-rippling, ever-swaying, gauzy veil of the Yosemite Fall, reaching from top to bottom of the opposite cliff, two thousand six hundred feet. Below, at a depth of three thousand two hundred feet, the bottom of the valley lies like a garden.

There, right under our noses, are the hotels, the orchards, the fields, the meadows (near one of these Hawkins even now selects our future camp), the forests, and through all the Merced River winds its apparently lazy, serpentine way. Yonder, up the Tenaya Canyon, nestling close under the shadow of Half Dome, lies Mirror Lake, fast asleep, her polished, black surface not yet ruffled by the rising wind. I have heard and read much of this wonderful valley, but I can truly say I have never imagined the grandeur of the reality.

After about one and a half hour’s rapturous gaze, we returned to camp and breakfasted. I had left Glacier Point a few minutes before most of the party, as I was dishwash, and had, therefore, to help the cook prepare breakfast. At breakfast I learned that two of the young men, Cobb and Perkins, had undertaken the foolish enterprise of going down into the valley by a canyon just below Glacier Point, and returning by 4 P. M. Think of it! three thousand three hundred feet perpendicular, and the declivity, it seemed to me, about forty-five degrees, in the canyon.

After breakfast we returned to Glacier Point, and spent the whole of the beautiful Sunday morning in the presence of grand mountains, yawning chasms, and magnificent falls. What could we do better than allow these to preach to us? Was there ever so venerable, majestic, and eloquent a minister of natural religion as the grand old Half Dome? I withdrew myself from the rest of the party and drank in his silent teachings for several hours.

About 1 P.M. climbed Sentinel Dome, and enjoyed again the matchless panoramic view from this point, and about 2 P. M. returned to camp. Our camp is itself about four thousand feet above the valley, and eight thousand above sea-level. By walking about one hundred yards from our camp-fire, we get a most admirable view of the Sierra, and particularly a most wonderfully striking view of the unique form of Half Dome, when seen in profile. I enjoyed this view until nearly time to saddle up.

Our plan is to return to Paragoy’s, only seven miles, this afternoon, and go to Yosemite to-morrow morning. It is 3:30 P.M., and the young men who went down into the valley have not yet returned. We feel anxious. Will they return, or remain in the valley? Shall we remain to-night and wait for them, or go on leading their horses, with the expectation of meeting them in the valley. We are to leave at four; we must decide soon.

These discussions were cut short by the appearance of the delinquents themselves, faint with fatigue. They had been down, taken dinner, and returned. We started immediately for Paragoy’s, where we arrived 6 P. M., and camped in a grove on the margin of a fine meadow. At Paragoy’s we bought a quarter of mountain mutton. We have been living on bacon and bread for some time. The voracity with which we devoured that mutton may be more easily imagined than described.

Ever since we have approached the region of the High Sierra, I have observed the great massiveness and grandeur of the clouds, and the extreme blueness of the sky. In the direction of the Sierra hang always magnificent piles of snow-white cumulus, sharply defined against the deep blue sky. These cloud-masses have ever been my delight. I have missed them sadly since coming to California, until this trip. I now welcome them with joy. Yesterday and to-day I have seen, in many places, snow lying on the northern slopes of the high peaks of the Sierra.

Continue to August  1-11, 1870Up to TopIndex


Source: Translated from SGML by Dan Anderson from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection, "The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920."

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